North Korea: Otto Warmbier's death is a 'mystery'

Pyongyang has criticized Washington for its handling of the death of a student who was returned to the United States after falling ill in custody, saying accusations that Otto Warmbier was tortured in North Korea are a pure "smear campaign".

The North's foreign ministry spokesman also said in comments carried by the official KCNA agency that Warmbier was "a victim of the policy of strategic patience" of former USA president Barack Obama, whose government never requested his release.

But the spokesman, whom state news did not identify, said that American doctors who flew to Pyongyang to evacuate Mr. Warmbier recognized that the North had "provided him with medical treatment and brought him back alive" after his "heart was almost stopped".

Upon his return to the U.S., doctors who examined Warmbier said the former University of Virginia student had incurred significant brain damage and was in a state of "unresponsive wakefulness". Doctors said the released detainee suffered a severe brain damage.

Warmbier was released from jail after being held captive for 17 months for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster and flown back to the USA on June 13.

Warmbier's release coincided with former basketball star Dennis Rodman's latest visit to North Korea, though United States national security spokesman Michael Anton denied there was a connection between the two.

A hearse carried Mr Warmbier's casket from the school to a burial service at a local cemetery. The front of the funeral program included a quote from Warmbier's 2013 graduation speech: "This is our season finale".

The life of a 22-year-old college student who died this week after being detained for almost a year and a half in North Korea will be celebrated in an OH hometown still stunned by his loss. Blue and white ribbons (the school's colors) adorned trees around the school to honor Warmbier.

As no autopsy was conducted, the cause of Warmbier's coma and death remain unknown.

"Those who have absolutely no idea about how well we treated Warmbier under humanitarian conditions dare to utter "mistreatment" and "torture"," he said according to the official KCNA news agency.

Mr Warmbier was traveling in North Korea with a tour group, and was arrested at Pyongyang airport as he was about to leave. Volo referred to Warmbier's release as a "type of good faith" needed "if we're ever going to do some type of future sports relations". He said North Korea's treatment of Warmbier demonstrated "a basic disregard for human rights, for human dignity".

His former soccer coach, Steve Thomas, said Warmbier came from a religious family and was involved in mission trips and a birthright trip to Israel.

North Korea still holds Kim Sang Duk and Kim Hak-song, academics who worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and a businessman named Kim Dong Chul.

  • Joanne Flowers